Kutai Ancient Rock Art, Treasure in The Heart of Borneo

Spoiler alert!
You gonna need loong tiiimee to read this one :p.

Expedition to the heart of Borneo.

Being one of the biggest islands in the world, Borneo (Kalimantan, in bahasa) is not only very rich in biodiversity compared to many other areas (MacKinnon et al. 1998) for its treasure. Borneo also discovered as one of the place that has the biggest amount of ancient rock-art in the world

This expedition was a part of my lecturer dissertation, Pindi Setiawan. The subject is about “Penelitian Gambar Cadas Kutai Prasejarah” (The Research of Ancient Kutai Rock Art). The research itself included the rock art reconstruction, identifying gender (okay, that was my job desc), cave mapping, and creating the 3d modeling and simulation. Well, If some of you have read National Geographic Indonesia few month ago (explaining about Karst), you will get familiar with my next explanation.

Before in Kalimantan, the research took place mostly in the Sulawesi Island. They’d begun our expedition a month before on the coast of the Makassar Strait in East Kalimantan in the Indonesian part of Borneo. Guess what? They found treasure in Kalimantan. It has the most rock-art than elsewhere in Indonesia. The age of this rock art is about 10.000 years.

“Deep within the Cliffside caves of eastern Borneo; 10,000-year-old paintings featuring the hands of the artists themselves may offer clues about ancient migrations.” Luc-Henry Fage

The Borneo Rock Art research actually have been started since 1995 by an archeological team consisted of Luc-Henri Fage; Jean-Michel Chazine, a French archaeologist and specialist in Oceanian prehistory; and Pindi Setiawan an Indonesian anthropologist. Together, year after year, they found dozens of caves with paintings throughout the region, some with unique designs hinting at a mysterious forgotten people. Those caves can be found in Marang mountains (also known as Gunung gergaji—Saw Mountains). During 1995-2002, the team has discovered at least 30 rock-art-caves which made by the ancient Nusantara people in the end of the ice age. The main characteristic of ancient Kutai rock art is on the picture. The rock art was using hematite* as the technique, whether using spread technique or brush technique.

*more about hematite http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hematite

And so, let’s begun the journey…

The preparation behind Nek Tewet’s house

Before started our journey, we slept in Nek Tewet House which located in Bengalon for a night. From Bengalon, the team divided into 2: The first was Mr. Pindi using three motor boats picking our need using water way together with Nek Tewet. Another team brought the tools and equipments by land road, using car. We met in Hambur Batu.

After stranded in Hambur batu for more than a day because of technical problem, we continued our journey to Marang.

While in Hambur Batu

Putra Pare (Java origin)

These chickens was on their way to Mahau. This is the only main road that connect between cities in Borneo province.

There is no traditional market in Hambur Batu. This picture shows the selling activity in Hambur Batu besides Night market. The seller himself usually doesnt come from Kalimantan. In fact, most of them are Javanese.

Personal bathroom is sooo rare. They use river for all activies : for water supply, bath, laundry, dishes, etc. In Hambur Batu, every house has gen-set. Public electricity doesn’t reach this area.

An albino bufallo passed on Hambur Batu road.

Powerstation which used for mapping.
The Signal Tree

Mobile phone signal is extremely rare in this location for all operator but sometimes we still can get it in certain place, for example: this tree. Citizen of Hambur Batu believe that the can get some phone signal there even though not every time. Besides this tree, people are used to hang their phone on the wall. The signal doesn’t come anytime, yet sometimes sms’ still can reach their number.

Journey to Marang

After about 1,5 hours from Hambur batu, accrossed the Bengalon river, We arrived at the Muara Ma au area. We took a rest at that point.

Some problems happened during our time in Marang, mostly technical matter (especially about boat). Broken propeller was just an example.


Threatened by mining industry and deforestation, Borneo is in dangerous. Not only for the biodiversity itself, those threat also endanger the water supplies in Borneo. Karsts are a natural way to keep tons of water for Borneo land. Mining energy have exploited most place in Kalimantan: coal, diamond, cement, etc. Most fires in Borneo are set for land-clearing purposes. While the Indonesian government has historically blamed small-scale swidden agriculturalists for fires, WWF noted that satellite mapping has revealed that commercial development for large-scale land conversion — especially oil palm plantations — was the largest single cause of the 1997-98 fires.

The One who Stand Still

Coal mining is all over the Kalimantan. This one is managed by KPC (Kaltim Prima Coal).


Half Full-Half Empty

This is a picture taken in Hambur Batu. The deforestation it self standing side-by-side with the society.

Logging is easily find everywhere along the river. I don’t know whether they are legal or illegal.

okay, back to Marang…

Found by Nek Tewet**, Liang Tewet located in the middle of the Gergaji mountains.Gergaji Mountain has longitudinal direction for approximately 32 º -212 º. The peak of this mountain can reach 500m over the sea surface.Elevation differences between the cave mouth and the river is more than 100 meter.To reachLiang Tewet, we have to go through Jeleriver, a tributary of Bengalun River. We took the river way from Hambur Batu to Mahau.Before that, we had to get almost 11 hours on road (7 hours from Balikpapan to Bengalon, 2 Hours to Sangatta, and2 hours to Hambur batu). The river way took almost 3-4 hours to Marang Mountain (using boat) and about 15-30 minutes walk and climb. The duration of water way depends on the season. It much faster if the river is full with water (it was dry season when we were there). Jya….we tasted the first rain while there!

**Nek is nickname for Kutai eldest. By the way, the cave’s name deprived from the name of the person who discovered it. Mr Pindi also has his own cave 😛




Om Toink (Fathoel Arifin) arranged his carrier. The left side was my “room” 😛

Mas Raymond prepared some equipment to create the track.ier. The left side was my “room” 😛

Here we go!

Mr Pindi climbed the cliff.

Inside the Liang Tewet

So here it is.

Honestly, I didn’t take many photos during my time inside the Liang Tewet. I’m too busy with my own duty took detail of the hand stamp, printed it, then traced it onto transparent plastic. But anyway, things which happened inside the cave was mapping the hand stamp overall. There was no such a interesting object except the ancient hand stamp it self –which are flat and placed on the plafond. So, I was focusing on the journey. Mas Sunu and om Toink are the person who took photograph of our activity the most. So, this photo courtesy also goes to them. *Btw, I think I’ve lost one gigabyte of picture from my SD card, zzzzz. Accidentally erased, probably 🙁 *

Picture below are taken by Om Toink and Mas Sunu

Liang Tewet

(Click to enlarge)

Silent Jungle

The age of this jungle is about 10 years old. It was the victim of big fire forest during the year of 1997-1998. Mr Pindi called it “Hutan Sepi” – Silent Forest because we wont hear the voice of the real tropical jungle from there. It is all because the fire forest.

Water Can.

The water source (river) is so far down the cave. We use used can to gather water from the rain drops that absorbed by the soil above the cave. We used it for washing hands, washing dishes, and drinking — if the water havent been delivered upwards the cave only.

Sky Kitchen

Good evening , sunshine ;D

There are few function of the ancient cave in Kalimantan: habitation, ritual summoning, etc Liang Tewet, probably a kind of cave which used for initiation – a ritual to celebrate someone of being mature.

(Click to enlarge)

Tewet consist of (approximately) 163 hand stamp. We can see the hand stamps on the cave plafond. This is not including the wash out stamp. Some of the picture couldn’t be revealed again because of weather (direct sunlight from the West side affect the contrast of the image a lot), time, water, and forest fire. Well, It was more than 10 years ago since the previous research team came to this cave before the real research in 2008. Besides hand stamps, there are also some paintings appear in tewet: gecko and deer.

“They [the cave painters] were artists because art consists in transmitting an emotion. The paintings were not put there just for decoration; it was a religious act,”


I hope I still can be a part of this research again. 😀

Wish me luck! And hope we’ll get many kind donators. (Yeah… money is really important, indeed)

Further reading:

www.kalimanthrope.com (the website is in francais).
Indonesian Article About Mapping Liang Tewet

The Team:

Pindi Setiawan (Lead Project)
Sunu Widjanarko
(mapping team, ASC)
Ryky Raymond
(mapping team, ASC)
Erlangga Esa Laksmana
(mapping team, ASC)
Fathoel ‘Toink’ Arifin
(Senior caver, HIKESPI)
Rahma Utami
(illustrator, DKV ITB)
Pasca Susena Hadiman
(post pro 3 D modeling, DKV ITB)

“Hello” from Liang Tewet.
From Left to Right : Ryky Raymond, Rahma Utami (me), Pindi Setiawan, Sunu Widjanarko, Yunus, Erlangga Esa Laksmana.

Porter and Helmsmen:
All are native Kutai.

Nek Tewet (Kutai Eldest)

Yunus (Tewet’s son in law)

Heldi (Tewet’s son)
Heldy (my hero ), lho?? :P. He was my personal assistant and a great helmsman of my boat!

Uun, the supper power 😛


Sepinggan, Balikpapan.
Cant wait for others expedition…. 😀

Gear: Keeno, My Nikon D40 Kit with 18-55mm lens
Nikon 70-300 F/3,5 – 5,6 belongs to Akbar Ilham Manangkasi (http://cebicebicebicebi.deviantart.com)

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Be First to Comment

  1. February 22, 2010

    wow ! makes me wonder how did those ancient people get up there though 😀

  2. quly
    February 22, 2010

    keren kak

  3. February 22, 2010

    mantab mba'
    gambar-gambar dan ceritanya seru,

    mohon ijin share link

    salam kenal dan salam buat mas pindi

  4. February 22, 2010

    edan panjang gini entrinya, keren ut, mantap!

  5. February 23, 2010

    very nice picture, dewa atuh…
    toink ketok e kok lemu banget, nek botakne sih ketok toink.
    Bravo… jadi pengen melu2 expedisi walaupun sudah ABG(aku baru gocap).
    Sukses broh…

  6. February 23, 2010

    itu ngebantuin disetrasi dosen gue di SR. Bayaran mah ga seberapa, but I felt sooooo lucky, damn lucky!! 😀

    waaaah, makasih udah mau nge-share. Share sluas-luasnya juga gapapa, biar semua orang tau *Seluruh dunia ahahah,terutama orang indonesia tau kalo kita punya kekayaan artefak kaya gini
    Kenal Pa PIndi? Insya Allah, aku sampein

    told ya….tepar bikin postingan ini, rada scientific

    hohoho, kenal om toink ya? hoho

    @guly n fox
    thx for visiting..kabarin yg laen juga yaaa :DDDD

  7. February 23, 2010

    keren bgt.. so detailll

  8. February 23, 2010

    Mbak Rahma, terima kasih sudah dikisahkan. kalau hero saya sih, U'un saja lah. Remaja Perkasa.
    Kalau pingin kenal lebih dalam dengan mas Aok (cavernicoles), kunjungi saja http://biotagua.org/. Kalau mas Janto (Tanu), beliau ini adalah salah satu pendiri ASC. Mbah guru saya.

  9. February 23, 2010

    @Mas Sunu
    Hoho, sama-sama
    waahh..sampe ada suhu-suhu ASC disini..saluuut. Aku udah maen ke biotagua. Seruu ;D

  10. February 23, 2010

    Bagus Ma…..

    thx 4 shared ur experience
    ditunggu update-an selanjutnya 🙂

  11. February 23, 2010

    wah keren2 potona mbak rahma…kapan yah bisa jalan2 ke sana jadi penasaran…
    salam kenal
    -lucius nugroho/djogja-

  12. February 24, 2010

    salam kenal juga mas Lucius (kayak lucius malfoy..:p). Hiyaa, aku juga beruntung untuk penelitian yg 1 ini 😀 smog abisa menyusuuul…

  13. February 24, 2010

    ajrin stage photography >,<

  14. February 24, 2010

    sering2 motret stage 😀
    tapi gw sekarang udah tau sih kalo nge-stage ngincer apa : backlight. Dan yang namanya pinjeman lensa itu wajib. hohohoh

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